Teen died from eating a spicy chip as part of social media challenge, autopsy report concludes

BOSTON (AP) — A Worcester teen who participated in a spicy tortilla chip challenge on social media died from ingesting a substance containing a high amount of the chili pepper extract capsaicin, according to an autopsy report obtained by The Associated Press.

Harris Wolobah, 10th grader, died on Sept. 1, 2023, after eating the chip. He was found unresponsive by police who were called to his home, and brought to a hospital, where he died.

Wolobah ate an extremely spicy chip made from a very hot pepper and sold by Paqui LLC.

The cause of death was listed as cardiopulmonary arrest “in the setting of recent ingestion of food substance with high capsaicin concentration.” The report also noted that the teen had an enlarged heart and a congenital heart defect.

In a statement posted on its website, Paqui said, “The Paqui ‘One Chip Challenge’ is intended for adults only, with clear and prominent labeling highlighting the chip is not for children or anyone sensitive to spicy foods or who has food allergies, is pregnant or has underlying health conditions. We have seen an increase in teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings.  As a result, while the product continues to adhere to food safety standards, out of an abundance of caution, we are actively working with our retailers to remove the product from shelves.”

In addition to warning that the chips aren’t meant for children, the packaging encourages buyers to eat the entire chip, “wait as long as possible before drinking or eating anything” and post their reactions on social media. It also asks how long the consumer can last, on a scale from one minute to one hour.

The back of the package warns buyers not to eat the chip if they are “sensitive to spicy foods, allergic to peppers, night shades or capsaicin or are pregnant or have any medical conditions.” It also says people should wash their hands after touching the chip and “seek medical assistance should you experience difficulty breathing, fainting or extended nausea.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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